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My life list: Natural phenomena


My life list: Places I have visited
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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On the other hand, I have gotten to go to lots of place like Yucca Mountain and the Ise Shrine and Petra, places like that that were on... they were aspirational. Machu Picchu, that I went on just because they were on the list. So I've got a very long list of those, some of which were even more exciting than I expected, like Monticello. I actually... I always wanted to go to Monticello and I got... the Smithsonian invited me to give a Monticello lecture, which came with, like, having dinner sitting around Jefferson's table at Monticello, which is something I'd never even dreamed of doing, so it was pretty exciting.

Some of them I got just in time, like there was something called the Time Museum, which I visited because it was on my list, and it was really out of the way in some little shopping centre in Illinois, one of the greatest collections of clocks ever gathered together. And then it closed down and disbanded right after I visited it. So I've learned that if something is on my list and I get an opportunity to do it, I definitely do it. I don't delay, even if it's very inconvenient, which that was. Lots of big telescopes are on here, like the Keck telescope or the giant Magellan telescope. Those have been some of the most fun visits. And I still feel, you know, there's a few things... actually, the Trinity site, that was on the list for a long time. I should cross that one off, but I wanted to go to the Trinity site, you know, the actual spot, which you can only do one day a year, but I did manage to go. And that's quite a strange scene, of the strange people that show up there. But I used to hike in the Oscura Mountains, very close to there, and I actually had gotten some Trinitite already. But it was fun going to the site, as much for the social scene of the people that show up there as anything else.

So there's a whole category of places where things are made. So for instance, I've never really wanted diamond cutters in action. I want to visit the SNO neutrino detector, which is down in a mine in Sudbury. I've actually been down in the mine, but I never got down to the detector. It took too long. So that's on my list. I want to see those giant machines that make Cheetos. There are not very many of them in the world, they make all the Cheetos. But... and I've never actually seen a ball bearing mill. On the other hand, there's lots of other things that were sort of on that list that I got to see, of car factories or the set of Star Trek. JJ Abrams took me around on that one. That was always... that's one I got to cross off. So I think factories are pretty fun. The watch factory, the Swatch watch factory, that was amazing. So those were things formerly on the list, now crossed off. Oil rigs, goldmines.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: bucket list, places, travel

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017